A Touch Of Burlesque On Avenue A

burlesque08John Galayda Anja Keister performs during the Kitty Nights burlesque show at Bar on A. The show, which has been running at the bar since 2006, is one of the few remaining burlesque acts in the East Village.

While for most people Sunday is a day of relaxation, filled with leisurely strolls or The Times crossword puzzle, at Bar on A, Sundays are anything but tame. The wild felines of Kitty Nights, the bar’s weekly burlesque show, close out each weekend with salaciously provocative entertainment.

Founded in June 2006 by producer and performer Fem Appeal, Kitty Nights is now one of the few remaining burlesque shows in the East Village.

Yet, in addition to hosting the last of the scantily clad Mohicans, at its heart Kitty Nights is a tribute to the strength of small neighborhoods that can often get lost amidst constant change and development.

Before Bar on A became host to her weekly revue, Ms. Appeal (who does not use her real name in her work because of “creepy people“) frequented the watering hole daily. “I lived in the East Village for eight years and Bar on A was my regular hangout. I’d come home from work, drop my stuff off and sit for a few hours,” she recounted. So when the bar was looking for an act to fill their vacant Sunday night slot, former owner Mark Mitchell turned to his faithful patron and friend.

Originating in the variety theater known as vaudeville, burlesque dates back to the early 1900s. It went beyond merely showcasing women who artfully perform a striptease, with much fanfare, feathers and glitz. As Ms Appeal explains, “We’re storytellers and although we tease and titillate any good storyteller is gonna make you feel something.”

However, Kitty Nights is not your great grandmother’s burlesque show. Ms. Appeal’s shows deviate from traditional burlesque, adding modern, creative twists. Routines are often contemporized and include less sequins and more pop culture references, with performers recreating characters from science fiction, current events and Hollywood films. To find inspiration performers draw on their personal lives, interests, and the culture of the East Village itself.

“In the East Village the tradition is anything goes and if you’re an artist you’re going to feed off that energy,” said Ms. Appeal.

burlesque05John Galayda Performers prepare to take the stage at the Kitty Nights burlesque show at Bar on A.

The neighborhood also lends ideas to performers in a more direct way, through the people who crowd its streets and patronize its local businesses. “Let’s say you’re hanging out in Tompkins Square Park, she explained. “There’s a jam band playing in one corner, you’re watching dogs in the dog run, and a homeless person walks by, you might decide hey, I’m going to an act based on a homeless person. You just got inspired because somebody is doing something weird. There are so many characters that we run into everyday. It’s just the heartbeat of the city.”

Whether it is Ms. Appeal’s unconventional style or passionate commitment to the show that has kept it running for so long, Kitty Nights has become a fixture on Avenue A. In large part Ms. Appeal attributes her longevity to the support of the venue itself.

“I think there are other clubs that just see what’s in it for us, and if they’re not making what they want, can bring in a DJ or do private parties and make more money,” she said. “They’re seeing a bottom line whereas this bar is seeing – we have a well-established show here.”

Just as Bar on A has stayed fiercely loyal to her over the years, so in turn has Ms. Appeal to the bar. “I’ve never thought of moving it anywhere else,” she attests. “I’m really fortunate. As long as this place is open, I have a home.”

Kitty Nights is at Bar on A, 170 Avenue A at 11th Street, every Sunday night; seating begins at 8:45.